End of school year begins ‘100 deadliest days’ for teen drivers

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 8:07 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The end of the school year and the unofficial start to the summer is upon us. But it also brings the start of a dangerous time on the highways -- the 100 deadliest days of summer.

Rebekah Rickstrew, whose son, Clayton, was killed by a drunk driver in 2021, has only memories of what Clayton meant to his family and to his community.

“Any kind of connection that they’ve ever had with him, they make sure other people know about it,” Rickstrew said. “He the kind of kid that he made an impact in life and he’s continuing to make an impact in death.”

In September 2021, Clayton was driving on K-254 outside of Wichita when a vehicle slammed into his. He had no time to react and he died on the scene. The other driver was drunk, over four times the legal limit.

Since then, Rickstrew has shared her family’s story at DUI impact panels, showing how driving under the influence can cause a ripple effect.

“A lot of people just don’t think about it because they think this won’t happen to me,” Rickstrew said. “People think, ‘I had two beers, I can drive home,’ or ‘I’ve done this 20 times’ and they don’t think this can happen to (them), regardless if it’s getting pulled over and getting a DUI or killing someone.”

This weekend marks the 100 deadliest days of summer, when fatalities in crashes spike -- 31 percent of teen fatalities happen between Memorial and Labor Days.

Gary Herman with the Kansas Department of Transportation said crashes and fatalities have increased in the past three years and are caused by speeding and other factors that are taking away drivers’ attention.

“We have lost some safety habits that we acquired prior to the pandemic,” Herman said. “Speeds are higher, the buckle-up rate is higher, (but) when you go to the teen rate, for those that are under 18, it is the lowest of any age.”

If your summer plans involve driving, Rickstrew stresses avoiding distractions. Have a plan and never drive drunk.

She wants no parent to experience the pain of her last 20 months.

“It’s the reality of it,” she said. “It’s a heartbreaking reality.”